Facility may not be built for seven years
POST FALLS Proponents of a future state veterans home in Post Falls are marching forward in their quest to secure funding for the facility.
Sen. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene, said it may be about seven years before the facility is built, unless an appropriations bill before Congress that increases the amount dedicated toward such facilities from $100 million to $200 million is approved.
If the bill is approved, the timeline could be cut to three to four years, Nonini said.
"There are states with a greater need than Idaho, so we're trying to get everything in order," said Nonini, adding the Post Falls site could climb on the priority list since property with services in Riverbend Commerce Park has already been secured, the Legislature has approved funding for the state's required 35 percent share and a feasibility study confirmed the need here.
Application to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for federal funding for the facility will be made this year with separate deadlines in late April and late August.
The Post Falls facility, which will become Idaho's fourth veterans home, is expected to have 65 to 80 beds. The size of the property on the east side of the commerce park, donated by the Jacklin family, increased from 5.5 to 7.3 acres after an architect recommended a larger site for the facility.
The total cost for recently-built similar facilities,
including both for the building and land, has been about $20 million.
Len Crosby, legislative affairs officer for American Legion Post 143 in Post Falls, said the Idaho Division of Veteran Services had concerns over whether the Post Falls facility could be adequately staffed with a perceived disparity between Washington and Idaho wages. However, Crosby pointed out that North Idaho has undergone a medical boom, citing recent expansions by Kootenai Health, Northwest Specialty Hospital and Heritage Health.
"I think we've overcome that (concern)," Crosby said.
Crosby said the Idaho application will also address new building design criteria by the VA that encourages facilities to be built in phases. He said such a plan may work in places like Florida or California, but in states where winter is a factor in construction seasons, it is more cost-effective to build facilities at once.
Crosby said the Post Falls project has received a lot of support from lawmakers, veterans groups, the city and Riverbend Commerce Park to overcome the hurdles. He remains upbeat on the facility becoming a reality.
"We've made a tremendous amount of headway this year," Crosby said.
Other state veterans homes are in Lewiston, Boise and Pocatello.
After the grant applications are submitted for the Post Falls home, the next step will be lobbying Idaho's congressional delegation about the project.
"We need to do everything we can to make the VA understand through our congressional delegation that we are very serious about this, are shovel-ready and have a great need," Crosby said.
There are an estimated 18,000 veterans in Kootenai County alone, but the facility would serve the entire Panhandle.